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Hamilton faces new challenges
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Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton is ready to race his heart out in Sunday's Australian season-opener, even if his McLaren proves no match for the Brawn of fellow-Briton Jenson Button.

Hamilton made a winning start in Australia last year while Button, who scored points in only one of his 18 races for now-departed Honda in 2008, was not even remotely in the reckoning.

F1 has undergone a revolution since then, with new regulations levelling the playing field and testing times suggesting that Melbourne could see a sensational shake-up on the starting grid.

While McLaren have said their car is still too slow to be a winner, Button's Mercedes-powered Brawn GP team have been a revelation since they emerged from the remains of Honda.

Rival team boss Frank Williams has already described the Brawn as "absurdly superior", while others such as Renault's Flavio Briatore have questioned its legality and threatened a protest.

Hamilton, who has won nine of the 35 grands prix he has started and finished on the podium 22 times, says he will do his best anyway in a race that will start later than ever and finish in the twilight.

"If I'm not able to start the Australian Grand Prix from the front of the grid, I'll still race my heart out," the 24-year-old said.

"At the moment, this year's car is a little behind the rest in terms of development but I'm absolutely confident we will get stronger and grow as the year progresses."

Brawn quick

Pre-season testing can be misleading but the consensus is that the Brawn, a car Honda spent a year and half in developing, is genuinely quick.

"They must have had a very difficult time over the winter but it's great to see them come through and with what is looking like a great car," said Hamilton. "Jenson and Rubens (Barrichello) deserve that because they are great drivers."

While the focus may be on the contrasting fortunes of the two Britons, Barrichello is also a strong contender for what would be his first win since 2004, when he was at Ferrari.

The Brazilian has a better record than Button in Melbourne, starting on pole in 2002 and finishing runner-up on three occasions.

Compatriot Felipe Massa, who lost out by a single point to Hamilton last November, will be another favorite at Albert Park as will Ferrari teammate and 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen.

"I'm 100 percent ready, perfectly in shape and I think that this also applies to the team," Massa said on the Ferrari website (www.ferrariworld.com).

"We made some mistakes last year and we've been working hard all winter long to improve where we weren't perfect."

Ferrari, with McLaren, are likely to be in a minority of teams using the new KERS energy recovery system that gives drivers an extra boost of power at the push of a button.

BMW-Sauber look like real contenders with Renault, Toyota and Williams not far behind. The true test will only come on Sunday, however.

"There's 10 guys who can win this race I think, easily," Red Bull's Australian Mark Webber told local reporters. "It's probably the most open first race we've ever had.

"You would expect McLaren maybe to have done a bit more... but apart from that, we all know they are more than capable of turning up in Melbourne and spanking everyone."

(Reuters via China Daily March 26, 2009)

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